Becoming a Community of Practice

I’ve just come back from helping to facilitate a three day leadership retreat. Rather than feeling drained as a result of the advance work and long days on site, I feel absolutely rejuvenated.

The participants, a very special energetic group of leaders, brought a great deal of wisdom as well as their passion for strengthening communities. One couldn’t help but learn from their experiences and be buoyed by their enthusiasm.

In addition to this keen group of participants we had an amazing team that planned and implemented the retreat. It was fascinating to watch as the team members took turns stepping in and out of the lead role sharing their own special talents and passion as they did so.

The end result of this shared leadership meant a heck of a lot less stress for everyone involved but also a richness and depth of learning that never would have happened had only one or two people been in charge.

Barb managed the process with an impish sense of humour and did a stellar job of keeping us all on track. Karen with her bubbly high energy kept us laughing and moving. Our young, bright and very organized Heather took care of all the logistics even serving as our scribe throughout the event.

Angie in her low-key and thoughtful way made us all think and learn about the importance of placing a priority on making the time to build relationships.

Sharon, new to the team, brought her unique artist’s perspective to the group adding leadership reflections, art activities, and a special closing circle that left us all better understanding the importance of creativity and innovation in building communities.

Tammy, Gillian and Kelly from the evaluation team asked insightful and meaningful questions that got everyone reflecting about themselves as a community leader.

Carol, the amazing woman who is responsible for bringing this magical group together shared the results of her diverse experience and helped the group connect a lot of disparate dots along the way.

Even the presence of Susan, the one team member who had previous commitments and couldn’t attend, was felt. Her photo kept surfacing in odd places throughout the retreat. Instead of “where’s Waldo?” it became a game of “where’s Susan?”

Underscoring all of this during the three day retreat was a sense of mutual respect, between and among us, and a lot of laughter. 

We took the time to really talk and reflect about what we each thought was important. We listened to each other, even if there were differences, knowing we were accepted and not judged by the others in the conversation.

It was also clear we were working within a culture where it was okay to make mistakes because learning was valued as much as success. We explored questions that mattered and developed a shared meaning that wasn’t there when we began.

Ultimately it was a very powerful yet informal kind of learning that enhanced our collective knowledge.

Etienne Wenger would define us as a “Community of Practice”, often abbreviated as CoPs, a term he first coined in his 1991 book entitled Situated Learning.

He defines communities of practice as a group of professionals informally bound together by shared expertise and a passion for a joint enterprise including common challenges and the pursuit of solutions.

Members of our CoP seemed to have a common sense of purpose and a need to know what each other knew about how to get people working together. As such we really became a community that learns. Not learning as in peers simply exchanging ideas around a water cooler, but rather a group of colleagues committed to building, solving problems, learning, and inventing together.

I see it as a very special kind of posse that will keep us on the cutting edge by helping us sort out what we pay attention to, what we participate in, and what we stay away from.

I think we all came away knowing we weren’t alone and that we were moving forward together. And, if we didn’t know it before, we certainly left knowing that together really is better.

Posted on 06-01-08

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